DHS Tests Search-and-Rescue Technology in Oregon
Friday, September 02, 2016 | Comments

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) First Responders Group (FRG) is developing and testing a suite of tools designed for first responders deployed during search and rescue operations. In June, search-and-rescue professionals took part in an exercise that allowed them to test S&T’s FIND first hand in Deschutes County, Oregon.

Under the Lost Person Locator (LPL) project, the FRG is working with dbS Productions to develop FIND. The new FIND software uses LPL statistics of decisions and patterns made by lost individuals in more than 150,000 past cases, known as lost person behavior.

“The FIND app is the latest LPL project to reach the final evaluation phase,” said S&T Program Manager Angela Ervin. “It compiles the data on where the person is most likely to be found, based on the common patterns and behaviors of those lost and in distress.”

S&T’s National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL) partnered with the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office to further evaluate FIND software during a fictional plane crash scenario. Together, they conducted an operational field assessment (OFA) of the technology with local search-and-rescue professionals. OFAs are a crucial step before prototypes head to the final evaluation stage, which includes feedback from OFA participants.

“One of the main challenges of search and rescue work is the organization of all of the necessary technology and data,” said Lt. Bryan Husband, special services coordinator with the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office. “There’s one paging system that gathers volunteers, maps resources and team allocations, and then additionally organizes the communications between the active teams in the field and the command. The ability to have a program that fits the majority of those things into one spot is very appealing.”

Following a pre-scenario instruction by Robert Koester, CEO of dbS Productions, the field teams used the FIND app’s communications log to track team locations and status updates. A person’s health status, age, experience, access to survival gear, and other factors are analyzed and assembled into specific behavior profiles in the FIND app.

“This improves the search-and-rescue team’s planning and decision making when assessing each type of scenario and places the search team directly into the lost individual’s frame of mind,” said Koester.

The FIND app does not depend on connectivity to the internet because the case studies and programs are already integrated into the app and are available for first responders who are conducting a search “off the grid” or under otherwise challenging circumstances. The FIND app includes a pre-packaged mapping system that does not require an understanding of geographic information systems (GIS). The result is a simple, easy-to-use interface that allows for collaboration and promotes coherence across all team members.

“The biggest hurdle is the need to integrate hardware and software to provide intelligent analysis and actionable information,” said Koester. “It is no longer enough to have the latest and greatest device or hardware. The information is simply starting to get to be too much to track and actually use. Therefore, the most essential need for search and rescue is the ability to bring everything together so the first responders on-scene can make practical decisions. Integration of information allows the sum to be greater than its parts.”

More on the LPL program is here.

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